Some occupations require an employee to be on the employer’s premises and available to work even though there are periods of time when actual work is not being performed. In some of these situations, it may be appropriate for employees to spend some time sleeping. The question then arises, when must an employer count sleeping time as hours worked for purposes of minimum wage and overtime?
Federal regulations address three situations in which the sleeping time questions may arise:
- employees on duty less that 24 hours
- employees on duty 24 or more hours
- employees who reside on their employer’s premises or who work from home
Employees on duty less than 24 hours
In some situations, employers are required to pay employees who work shifts shorter than 24 hours for time spent sleeping. This usually occurs when the employer requires the employee to be present on its premises during a shift but the employee is not expected to perform his or her main job duties during the entire shift. The classic example of this situation is a firefighter. A firefighter, when on duty, is typically required to be present at the fire station unless they are responding to an emergency call or performing some other community service. When the fire fighter is not involved in these and other maintenance or safety activities, they may be allowed to sleep. The employer would be required to pay the firefighter for his or her sleep time. This is because the firefighter has forfeited control of his activities to the benefit of the employer who may call on the employee at any time while the employee remains on duty to perform work. 29 C.F.R. 785.21
Employees on duty 24 or more hours
Employers must pay employees who remain on duty for 24 or more hours for sleeping time and any bona fide meal periods and include the time in any overtime calculations, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties. Employees who are required to be on duty 24 or more hours may enter into an agreement with the employer to exclude sleeping time and meal periods from hours worked provided that the employer provides adequate sleeping facilities and that the employee is generally permitted to have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Additionally, the employer can only take credit for a maximum of 8 hours of sleep time. If an employee’s sleep time is interrupted to perform work and the employee does not get a good night’s rest (defined as a minimum of 5 hours of sleep), the employer cannot take any sleep time credit and must count all time, included any hours the employee slept, as hours worked. If the employee is required to perform work during sleeping time, but is otherwise able to get a good night’s rest (more than 5 hours of sleep), the employer only need to pay the employee for the time the employee actually worked. 29 C.F.R. 785. 22
Employees residing on employer’s premises or working at home
Employers are not typically required to pay employees for sleeping time if the employee resides on the employer’s premises or works from home. Examples of these types of situations may include nannies, housekeepers, and employees working in remote locations. In these situations, the employee generally has sufficient periods of time in which he or she is free to engage in personal activities or leave the employer’s premises for personal reasons. Noting the challenge these types of situation present when determining when to count time as hours worked, the Department of Labor gives significant weight to the agreement of the parties regarding daily work requirements, so long as the agreement is reasonable. 29 C.F.R. 785.23
The situations described above provide a general overview for when sleeping time is considered hours worked for purposes of minimum wage and overtime compliance. However, there may be circumstances that may require additional legal considerations. For instance, states may have their own minimum wage and overtime laws which include their own standards for when an employee must be paid for sleeping time. Remember, employers are required to apply the federal or state minimum and overtime law that provides employees the greatest benefits.
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